New Car Review: 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude 4X4

Front three-quarters view of red2012 Jeep Compass Latitude driving on city street
The 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude.
As that great poet, philosopher and automotive journalist Jim Morrison of the Doors once said, "Been down so G-----n long, looks like up to me."

Jim died 41 years ago, and he was never one during his four short years of stardom to sell his songs for ad campaigns, but in the case of the Jeep Compass, he just might have made an exception. For in six years on the market, the Compass has largely been reviled as cheap, crude and worst of all...not really a Jeep.

Under Fiat, Chrysler has moved to do several right things. One: they've largely fixed the styling...turning an ungainly looking mess into a fairly convincing baby Grand Cherokee.

2012 Jeep Compass Latitude interior, in black, with nav system
The 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude interior.
Two, they have absolutely improved the interior...beyond our wildest dreams, in fact. Especially in the higher trim levels, there's no longer anything to apologize for.

And three...they're dumping it after the 2014 model year.

Now that may sound cold, but there's one thing Fiat/Chrysler can't fix...and that's that the Compass is not really a Jeep, even after having been tweaked (times your ZIP code) to acheive "Trail Rated" status in 2011.

Make no mistake, everything is better about the Compass (especially in Latitude trim), but it's never going to be awesome, or even on a par with competition like the Chevy Equinox, Toyota RAV4 or (assuming the recall is quickly addressed and non-recurring) the all-new 2013 Ford Escape . It's even a losing battle within the Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep family...the largely identical but better styled (from the windshield on back) Patriot is about $4,000 less expensive.

Our tester, with four-wheel drive, started at $23,445 with standard stability and roll control, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, cruise control, brake assist, power windows, remote keyless entry, an upgraded audio system with hard drive, air conditioning, heated front seats and a batch more. A couple of option packages adding an alarm system, tire pressure monitoring, and UConnect brought the bottom line (with $780 destination charge) to $25,350.  The EPA fuel economy average is 20 city/26 highway.

A definite "A" for effort goes out to Sergio Marchionne and the guys at Fiat/Chrysler. I would've bet that they couldn't get the Compass into this kind of shape. A lot of car companies wouldn't even try. If this is what they'll do for a car that only has two more model years to live, then I can't wait to see what the Compass' replacement will be like.